University Strives to Help International Students Adjust

DECEMBER 6, 2012

Group of International FHU Students
Students in the photo are: (seated) Isaac Barantes, Costa Rica; Stefano Brasso, Brazil; Minor Perez, Costa Rica; Jessica Veira, Widlord Thomas, Haiti; (standing) Breno Oliveira, Brazil; Philipp Baier, Germany; Simba Zvaita, Zimbabwe.

Their name says it all. International students at Freed-Hardeman University have chosen to call their new organization PANGEA. Students created an acronym, People And Nations Gaining Educational Advantage. Based on a Greek word that means “all lands,” “pangea” also alludes to the theoretical supercontinent that broke up, allowing the continents to drift apart.

If the sponsors and students involved with PANGEA have their way, however, the continental drift may reverse itself at Freed-Hardeman. The club seeks to bring cultures together and to assist international students in their transition to life at Freed-Hardeman.

Two students from Costa Rica, Minor Perez and Isaac Barrantes, approached Rhonda Thompson and Linda Moran, both FHU Spanish teachers, last spring with their idea for a new organization that would help international students overcome culture shock. In less than a semester, the group has begun to realize some of its goals.

Many international students come to the United States without everything they need for life in a residence hall. “You aren’t going to bring a wastebasket, cleaning supplies, or even a bedspread when you fly here from another country," Moran said. Many of these students come to an unfamiliar place without the essentials. Even clothing suitable for the winter has been a problem for some coming from warmer climates. “They come here and they don’t even know who or how to ask for help,” Moran said. She recounted the story of a student from Panama who got here, but his luggage did not. “We were able to supply what he needed until his own belongings arrived,” she said.

One student who arrived in January from a tropical climate recounted his own difficulties with the cold weather. “I was so cold,” he said. “I was freezing.”

When his roommate arrived, he commented on how cold the room was and asked, “Why don’t you turn on the heat?” At that point, the international student learned he could have controlled the temperature in the room.

Such incidents highlight the need to help these students as they adjust to the U.S. and to FHU. PANGEA hopes to meet that need. They want to establish a mentoring program that would include assigning a new international student with a returning student, someone who could help orient the new student to his surroundings.

The group has already begun to help in other ways. It now sponsors what they’ve termed a “mini-mart” established on campus. It provides snack items, cleaning supplies, clothing and sundries to students who because of lack of cash or transportation have difficulty getting them. The “mart” began in the spring of 2012 with items donated by students. Since then, faculty and staff, and members of local congregations, have donated additional supplies as well. The hope is that international students will return useable items so they can be given to the next student who needs them.

A recent addition to the group’s projects is a student lounge for international students located in Draughon Education Building. A map on the wall pinpoints the 25 countries represented in this year’s student body. The space is being used for studying, tutoring and general “hanging out.” Latinos, European students and Asian students can congregate there, share their experiences and learn from each other.

“If you’ve ever spent much time in a foreign country,” Moran said, “you know sometimes you just need to get away from everything for a while.” The lounge serves that purpose as well.

Thompson and Moran see themselves as advocates for the international students. “We want to help them get what they need; we want to see them succeed,” Thompson said. Although these students need to learn to adapt, some of them isolate themselves. PANGEA seeks to bring people and cultures together.

Sponsors of the group, in addition to Thompson and Moran, are Larry Moran, Stan Mitchell and Terry Reeves. Any of them would be delighted to talk with those desiring to assist with this effort. “We very much want this to be a continuing ministry,” Thompson said.